Drag diva Velma Celli kickstarts 2021 with Large & Lit In Lockdown streamed show

Velma Celli: Large & Lit In Lockdown Again but from a new location

AFTER his “Fleshius Creepius” panto villain in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, Ian Stroughair planned to pull on his drag rags for a live Velma Celli show on January 15 at his adopted winter home of Theatre @41 Monkgate.

He anticipated more shows would have followed too, but then came York’s new impediment of Tier 3 status post-Christmas, and inevitably tighter restrictions still to come until the jabs make their point.

Consequently, he announces instead: “Darlings, as we head back into a lockdown in York, Velma Celli is back on the streaming! My first show, Large & Lit In Lockdown Again, is on Friday (8/1/2021) at 8pm. I would love you to join me for an hour of camp cabaret fun! Get those requests and shout-outs in!”

In 2020, Velma hosted a series of streamed shows from Case De Velma Celli, alias the drag diva’s Bishopthorpe kitchen. Firstly, on April 29, a fundraiser for St Leonard’s Hospice, followed by Large & Lit In Lockdown and virtual versions of the cabaret queen’s hit shows Equinox, Me & My Divas and A Night At The Musicals.

Usually to be found once a month gracing The Basement stage at City Screen, York, Velma returned to live performance in York by signing up for a rugby club – York RI Rugby Union Football Club, in New Lane, Acomb, to be precise – for An Evening Of Song outdoors under the September stars.

Jack And The Beanstalk saw Ian turn to the dark side as the vainglorious “Fleshius Creepius”, and now, newly moved into a riverside abode in York, he is ready to return to Velma Celli mode from Friday.

Tickets for Virtual Velma start at £10 via http://bit.ly/3nVaa4N. Watch this space for news of an online show every Friday from Ian’s new HQ.

Here, Ian answers Charles Hutchinson’s quickfire questions at the outset of a new year still shrouded in uncertainty for the arts world.

From where will you be streaming the January 8 show?  Still as a kitchen-sing drama or from a different room at your new riverside pad?

“The living room.”

On a technical level, what did you learn about doing digital streams from your earlier series of shows?

“That tech is stressful but once you have a system, it’s a piece of cake.” 

Ian Stroughair as Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk

What will the new show feature: any songs making their debut?

“Expect lots of divas as per. I’m gonna whack in some classic Amy Winehouse too: Back In Black.”

Will a remote guest be joining you?

“Not this time. You get Velma all to yourself.”

Your 2020 ended on a high with the villainous Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk.  How did it feel to be back on stage in a show with a proper run to it?

“It was EVERYTHING. Such a joy and a wonderful experience. Feel so lucky and positive for a return of theatre as a whole!” 

What did you enjoy most about performing this pantomime – a new hybrid of “pansical” or “musical theatre with pantomime braces on” – in your home city?

“Working with the entire team. Everyone was sensational. The most talented cast I’ve ever worked with.” 

What were your highlights of 2020, aside from the pantomime?

“Reconnecting with York. I’ve fallen in love with it big time. Growing up here was a very different place and time, especially for the LGBTQIA+, but now it’s SO much more diverse.”

What realistic hopes do you have for yourself in 2021?

“That I can stay afloat until venues can open. It’s hard but, my lord, I’ll plod on.”

What hopes would you still have for 2021 in an ideal world?

“That theatre and the arts in general would have a boom and rebirth. I’m hopeful but realistic it may take longer than I dream.”

If you could address the Government, why do the arts matter?

“We need the arts more than we ever thought. It’s entertainment. It’s escapism. It’s culture. We all need it.” 

REVIEW: Big Ian Donaghy’s Boxing Day visit to York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk

Ian Stroughair’s Flesh Creep: “Joyously evil-turned-up-to-11 villain”. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

MONKGATE magic!

Every year like clockwork, you wolf down the first clutch of chocolates from your Advent calendar, then panto arrives.

Men as women.

Women as men.

Two crew members as a horse.

Oh yes, it is!

Oh no, it isn’t!

Jack And The Beanstalk: “The healthy, bright-eyed and slim” bean feast of a York Stage pantomime, as promised by the newly appropriated Biles Beans sign

Children’s eyes agog.

But not in 2020.

The year that the show MUSTN’T go on.

Just watch the news.

Tisn’t the season to be jolly!

As theatres up and down the land spend Christmas in darkness, a shard of light could be seen down an alleyway off Monkgate.

It’ll never work.

How could it work?

Jack….and the beanstalk: Jordan Fox’s Jack with stage manager Lisa Cameron’s hand-made beanstalk in the York Stage pantomime. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

This needed ideas, creativity and the personnel to pull it off and even then one announcement could pull its plug at any moment.

This had failure written all over it.

As we walked past the finest piece of genius marketing on Boxing Night, extending the locals’ favourite landmark – the Bile Beans sign on Lord Mayor’s Walk – to read “Bile BeanSTALK”, we were smiling even before the first line.

“Where’s the Minster?”, people ask? “It’s just over the wall from the Bile Beans sign.”

After a balanced diet of cheese and Toblerones, could this be the panto to keep us “healthy, bright-eyed and slim?”.

Alex Weatherhill’s Dame Nanna Trott: “Showing off a range to stop Mariah Carey warbling her festive favourite”. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

As we walked through the door, greenery festooned every bannister and surface.

With a tiny capacity of only 60 to meet Covid safety requirements, this was not so much a family panto as a “bubble panto”.

Jack was played by the endearing Jordan Fox, who somehow managed to be both idiot and hero at once.

Flesh Creep was played by the joyously evil-turned-up-to-11 Ian Stroughair, who was nearly eight feet tall with hat!

A three-piece dance troupe featuring dance captains from both the Grand Opera House (Emily Taylor) and Theatre Royal (Danielle Mullan) felt like a luxury as did a small house band (Jessica Douglas, Sam Johnson and Clark Howard).

Corners could have easily been cut but weren’t. Quality clearly means everything to writer-director Nik Briggs.

“Top-tier entertainment”: May Tether as Jill Gallop (on the podium) with ensemble trio Emily Taylor (left), Danielle Mullan and Matthew Ives. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

The cast faced magnetic north as a convoy of beautiful original songs and production numbers ran through the show, choreographed by West Ender Gary Lloyd .

The harmonies as all the cast sang together were spellbinding, as the hairs on the backs of your arms acknowledged this wasn’t another panto re-heat -this was fresh.

I could listen to May Tether (who played Jill) sing the terms and conditions of an insurance policy and she’d make it sound like Carole King had penned it.

Where many pantos have actors, singers or dancers with on obvious ‘also ran’ in their skill set, every cast member was a Swiss Army knife of lethally sharp talent.

Rarely do you get soulful vocals from a panto fairy (Livvy Evans) and even the Dame, played by Alex Weatherhill, showed off a range to stop Mariah Carey warbling her festive favourite.

Head’s gone: Writer-director Nik Briggs and stage manager Lisa Cameron in a revealing moment for the longer-than-usual pantomime cow, Daisy, in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Surprisingly, the cast showed no fatigue from the three-shows-a-day schedule but it begs the question why this wasn’t in a bigger venue with Covid measures in place. I can only imagine that the paperwork and risk assessments took more paper than the script in this impossible year. The audience were even guided to do hand gestures, as everybody desisted from shouting “Oh yes he is” all night.

Every ticket in this traverse set-up was a golden ticket as each group was separated into plastic booths. This is “in your face” theatre – but socially distanced of course – that you can feel, not just watch.

Featuring some of the most original gags I have ever heard in a panto to reflect the times, plus a couple of very well-known faces on screen who could grace any stage in the land, this is a show full of surprises: doing the same things differently. Proving that theatre can adapt to fit around the safety of its audience to give a Christmas to remember to a year many of us would like to forget.

“Soulful vocals”: Livvy Evans as Fairy Mary in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

In 2020, when Amazon have delivered everything to your doorstep, Briggs has delivered not just a panto, but also West End-quality musical theatre, while maintaining a safe distance, and NOBODY will be writing ‘Return to Sender’ on this triple threat-laden package.

York’s Tier 2 status meant that the doors could open, but there is nothing Tier 2 about this show in Monkgate. This is top-tier entertainment for all of your bubble.

Review by Ian Donaghy

Show times: December 29, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; December 30, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; New Year’s Eve, December 31, 12 noon (sold out); January 2, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; January 3, 1pm and 6pm.

Please visit yorkstagepanto.com for an update on performances once York’s new Tier status is confirmed in the Government briefing tomorrow (30/12/2020).

Name up in lights: The traverse stage for York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, with the audience seated in Perspex-shielded bubbles. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Box office: online only at yorkstagepanto.com. Please note, audiences will be seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

Today is officially Panto Day in a winter with all too few panto days…except in York

WHO better to mark Panto Day than York Stage’s villain, Ian Stroughair, whose performance in Jack And The Beanstalk combines a craving for power with towering stage domination.

Stroughair’s intemperate character, Flesh Creep, is so hell-bent in his quest, he could spare only three minutes for these short, sharp, snappy answers to CharlesHutchPress’s equally quickfire questions.

What was the first pantomime you ever saw and what do you recall of it?

“Leeds. Not sure which, but I was frightened to death by the baddie.”

What was your first pantomime role?

“Dandini in Cinderella, The Regent Theatre, Stoke.” 

What has been your favourite pantomime role?

“Dandini.”

Who have you not yet played in pantomime that you would love to play?

“Dame. Not old enough, I don’t think, though.” 

Who is your favourite pantomime performer and why?

“Julian Clary. Utterly fabulous.” 

This year’s pantomime will be an experience like no other…what are your expectations of performing a show in these strange circumstances?

“My expectations are that it will be awesome.” 

Which pantomime role should Boris Johnson play?

“The Evil Queen.”

Who or what has been the villain of 2020?

“Trump.”

Who or what has been the fairy of 2020?

“Netflix.”

How would you sum up 2020 in five words?

“It has been a mess.”

What are your wishes for 2021?

“For theatres to boom.”

What are your hopes for the world of theatre in 2021?

“For theatres to boom.”

Happy Panto Day, Ian.

York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk runs at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, until January 3. Box office: yorkstagepanto.com

REVIEW: York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, the “musical with panto braces”

Wickedly bad, yet wickedly good: Ian Stroughair as “Fleshius Creepius” in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk. All pictures: Kirkpatrick Photography

York Stage in Jack And The Beanstalk, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, until January 3 2021. Box office: yorkstagepanto.com

THIS is a York pantomime season like none before.

York Theatre Royal has, like a council politician, taken to the wards seeking votes, in this case for the audience choice of Travelling Pantomime. Dame Berwick Kaler’s comeback on board Dick Turpin Rides Again, after his headline-making crosstown transfer to the Grand Opera House, has gone into Covid-enforced hibernation for a year. Likewise, Rowntree Players have taken the winter off.

Yet, what’s this? A newcomer bean-sprouting up at Theatre @41 Monkgate, courtesy of York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, a show stuffed with West End talent with York and wider Yorkshire roots, bedding in nicely with socially-distanced performances for maximum audiences of 55 at the Covid-secure heart of Monkgateshire.

May Tether as Jill Gallop: “Investing personality in every line”

Once temperature tested at the doors and hands cleansed, you are led up the beanstalk-clad stairway to your brightly-coloured seat in the John Cooper Studio, a black-box theatre here configured as a traverse stage, the bubble-compliant audience sitting to either side or upstairs on the mezzanine level.

Safety division comes in the form of screens, like on Have I Got News For You, giving a different Perspextive on watching a show, but in no way impeding the view. Actors are socially distanced – they exchange elbow greetings; romance is replaced by best friendships – and audience members are close to the stage in this intimate setting, but not too close. The dame does not dispense sweets and we are asked to refrain from shouting.

Not your normal panto, then, in this all-too abnormal year, except that writer-director Nik Briggs’s 2020 vision for pantomime still has all the elements: the song and dance; the puns and punchlines;  the slapstick and the transformation scene; the dame (Alex Weatherhill) and Daisy the cow; the drama-queen baddie (Ian Stroughair) and his narcissism; the topical and the local references; the daft wannabe superhero dreamer (Jordan Fox) and the fairy (Livvy Evans);  the principal girl (May Tether) and her plain-speaking principles.

Slapstuck: Alex Weatherhill’s Dame Nancy Angelina Norma Nigella Alana Trott – Nanna for short – goes nuts in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk

Then add the all-action ensemble (Matthew Ives, Danielle Mullan and Emily Taylor) and the band, a trio of musical director Jessica Douglas, fellow keyboard player Sam Johnson and York’s premier league drummer, Clark Howard, parked upstairs but omnipresent and on the button, The Great British Bake Off theme tune et al.

Briggs has called his show “a musical with pantomime braces on”; his choreographer, Gary Lloyd, a big signing from the West End and tour circuit, has coined the term “pansical”. That may suggest a slightly awkward new hybrid, but like the cult rock’n’roll pantomime at Leeds City Varieties, the musical driving force here is a winning addition to the tradition.

Danielle Mullan lights up the transformation scene in Jack And The Beanstalk

Ninety minutes straight through – intervals are so last year – Jack And The Beanstalk is full of beans, lovely to look at and lively too, loud at times but rarely lewd (blame the dame for those “innocent but guilty” moments, met with knowing laughter).

Surprise celebrity cameos pop up on video, and York Mix Radio’s morning team of Ben Fry and Laura Castle provide the pre-recorded countdown chat pre-show.

Briggs is breaking his duck as a pantomime writer, and his script is a little mannered by comparison with the highly experienced Paul Hendy’s way with words for the Travelling Pantomime, but he does know the notes, he does play them in the right order, and the jokes invariably hit home, especially those that play on the Covid conventions of 2020.

Making a cow’s head of himself: York Stage pantomime writer-director Nik Briggs steps out of character with stage manager Lisa Cameron as the socially distanced, elongated Daisy in Jack And The Beanstalk

His reinvention of the pantomime cow is a particular joy, even if the dame’s nutty slapstick routine is hampered by having to play safe.

Briggs’s characters, bold and playful and bright, will appeal to children and adults alike. The singing is the ace card. What voices, whether Weatherhill’s operatic entry; professional debutante Tether’s arrival as Yorkshire’s next Sheridan Smith with her gift for investing personality in every line or the appealing Fox’s top-notch prowess in big numbers and ballads alike.

Foxy, ladies! Jordan Fox in superhero mode as Jack Trott in Jack And The Beanstalk

Evans’s Fairy Mary is fun and feisty, especially in her battles with Stroughair’s long-fingered, stove-pipe top-hatted Flesh Creep, commanding the stage with that irrepressible swagger and spectacular singing we know from his drag diva, Velma Celli.

You will never have a better chance to see Gary Lloyd’s flamboyant, fab-u-lous choreography so close up it is almost personal, dazzlingly pretty in the transformation scene, bouncing madly on and off trampolines in Stroughair’s high point, Jump (the Van Halen anthem).

Bean there, done that? Not until you have seen this new brand of York pantomime.

Review by BARSTOW TEASDALE. Copyright of The Press, York

Fairy tale ending: Livvy Evans as Fairy Mary in Jack And The Beanstalk

Move over drag diva Velma Celli, here’s Ian Stroughair’s York panto villain Flesh Creep

Welcome to the dark side: York musical actor, singer and dancer Ian Stroughair casts off his drag diva act, Velma Celli, to play Flesh Creep in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk this winter

YORK has seen plenty of Ian Stroughair this year, online largely, from his Bishopthorpe kitchen in his cabaret guise as drag diva divine Velma Celli.

From December 11, the West End musical actor, singer and dancer can be enjoyed in his home city like never before, making his York pantomime bow in York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk at the Covid-secure, socially distanced Theatre @41 Monkgate.

Given his glamorous, glorious-voiced alter ego as Velma, you may have expected Ian to slip into the dame’s costumes, but “perhaps I’m a little young for dame,” he says.

Instead, 6ft 5 in his boots and stove pipe top hat, Ian will be switching to the dark side, entering stage left as Flesh Creep in writer-director Nik Briggs’s 90-minute production on a traverse stage.

“Yeah, finally I’m doing a panto in York,” he says, wiping away the face paint from his photo-call session. “Before the pandemic lockdown changed everything, I was supposed to be auditioning for the York Theatre Royal pantomime [Cinderella, pre-lockdown], but that didn’t happen.

Smokin’! The poster for Large & Lit In Lockdown, one of Velma Celli’s kitchen-sing dramas streamed from
Ian Stroughair’s Bishopthorpe kitchen

“Just like I was going to be doing Funny Girls for three months, taking over from Betty Legs Diamond, so I should have been going up to Blackpool for that, but then all the theatres shut suddenly. So instead I got on the train and came home to York.”

In globe-strutting Velma Celli mode, Ian had been performing in Australia before the escalating Coronavirus pandemic sent him packing back to Blighty, quarantining in York from a week before lockdown.

He refused to be downtrodden, instead writing and cycling to keep show-fit and embracing the nascent possibilities of steaming concerts live and sparkly from the improvised Case De Velma Celli kitchen stage.

“It was tricky at first because we were trying to navigate the technology to make it look and sound good, so it was a big learning curve, but so many friends were just sitting at home moaning, and I thought, ‘no, there are still ways to be artistic and you just have to think outside the box and work harder than everyone else,” recalls Ian, who began with an April 29 fundraiser by Velma for St Leonard’s Hospice, York.

Later, for his kitchen-sing dramas, he presented Velma in Large & Lit In Lockdown and virtual versions of the cabaret queen’s hit shows Equinox, Me & My Divas and A Night At The Musicals.

Minus the make-up: York actor and international drag queen Ian Stroughair

Usually to be found once a month gracing The Basement stage at City Screen, York, Velma returned to live performance in York by signing up for a rugby club – York RI Rugby Union Football Club, in New Lane, Acomb, to be precise – for An Evening Of Song outdoors under the September stars.

Velma playing to playing a rugby club crowd in York on a Friday night…that’s brave, Ian? “Someone suggested there and I went down and met the lovely Caroline Knight and I was sold. Lovely people there and I grew up in Acomb, so it just felt right,” he says.

“The crowd turned out to be mainly people who come to my shows at City Screen, but we did have a LGBTQ rugby team in!”

Rehearsals for Jack And The Beanstalk began at Theatre @41 on November 23, reuniting Ian with West End choreographer Gary Lloyd, who has headed north to York, where his sister, Jo Theaker, is a leading light with York Stage.

“Gary directed and choreographed me in a show called What A Feeling! for a UK tour and the London Palladium,” Ian recalls. “I was 23, so it was nearly 15 years ago. It’s still the hardest-working show I’ve ever done because Gary’s choreography is always spectacular, so it’s great to be working with him again. He’s one of the very best.”

Ian has previous form in pantomime, playing Dandini in 2015/16 in Cinderella at the Regent Theatre, Stoke.  “I loved every minute. We were fortunate to win a couple of Great British Pantomine Awards,” he says.

Ian Stroughair in Velma Celli mode

“I was nominated too, for Best Actor, which was lovely. Julian Clary beat me. It was me, Julian and Samuel Holmes, who were nominated; they’re both panto veterans, Julian with his £20,000 worth of costumes at the Palladium…and then me in my panto debut!”

Now comes the sinister sidestep to playing the baddie Flesh Creep in Jack And The Beanstalk. “I’ve never done baddie before, so I’m going to take out Velma’s ‘potty’ mouth and replace it with some sinisterly articulated elocution,” says Ian, elongating his words.

Having lost his mother a few years ago, Ian says Christmas “can be a difficult time”, but “if you can’t laugh at a pantomime you must be dead inside”. “So, I can’t wait to be spreading the joy this Christmas. I’m loving it, after the only things that got me through this year were fried food and wine!”

Looking to the day when he may yet emulate his “idol and a living legend”, York’s long-running dame Berwick Kaler, Ian says: ”Panto producers do keep trying to get me to play Ugly Sister, and  should I ever play dame, it’s a role where it’s all in the rhythm and instinctive comedy timing. That’s something you can’t teach but you can get better at it.

“It’s an exhausting role and should be the heart of every great panto. I prefer the dame to not be too polished aesthetically; a tad rough around the edges ideally.”

York Stage presents Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, from December 11 to January 3; show times, Monday to Saturday, 2pm and 7pm; Sundays, 1pm and 6pm; Christmas Eve, 12 noon and 5pm; New Year’s Eve, 12 noon. Box office: online only at yorkstagepanto.com. Please note, audiences will be seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

Look who’s in the Bean team as York Stage announce panto at Theatre @41 Monkgate

Full of beans! The York Stage cast for Jack And The Beanstalk, from top left: Jordan Fox, May Tether, Ian Stroughair, Livvy Evans, Alex Weatherhill, Emily Taylor, Matthew Ives and Danielle Mullan

CHRISTMAS in York would not be complete without a family outing to the pantomime, reckons York Stage producer Nik Briggs.

No wonder he is excited to announce his company will be  bringing a brand new professional staging of Jack And The Beanstalk to the city  this winter, billed as “a panto made in York for the people of York”. 

Running from December 11 2020 to January 3 2021 at Theatre @41  Monkgate, York, the 90-minute, Covid-secure show will feature Ian Stroughair, alias York’s  international drag diva Velma Celli, in wicked mode in the cast of eight laden with West  End talent from Yorkshire and the North East. 

Nik says: “Join us this December for some magical Christmas entertainment as we  present Jack And The Beanstalk in the Theatre @41 building in the heart of York on  Monkgate. 

York Stage’s poster for Jack And The Beanstalk, the pantomime where “giant magic can grow in the smallest places”

“Our traditional family pantomime will be performed in a traverse setting in the John  Cooper Studio, with the audience placed either side of a central stage with a capacity of 80 and no interval in the show.” 

“Covid-secure safety measures will be in place and, for the first time at a York Stage  show, Perspex safety screens will be placed between households and support bubbles  so that our audiences can safely enjoy the show.” 

Introducing his cast, Nik says: “We’re so excited to be bringing a sensational show to  York this Christmas with the most exciting casting!”  

Taking on the challenge of climbing the beanstalk will be West End actor Jordan Fox  (from Kinky Boot, Friendsical, Beautiful) as Jack, who must take on the evil Flesh Creep, played by Ian Stroughair (Cats, Fame, Chicago and Rent, as well as award-winning drag vocalist Velma Celli).  

Ian Stroughair, pictured here in Velma Celli drag diva mode, will switch to the dark side as the villainous Flesh Creep in Jack And The Beanstalk

Supporting Jack on his quest will be another York-born West End talent, Livvy Evans  (Tina, Motown, Soho Cinders), as Fairy Mary and Alex Weatherhill (Chicago, All Male  G&S) as Dame Trott.  

York Stage are thrilled to be giving May Tether, a favourite of past York Stage Musicals  shows, her first professional contract, playing Jill, following her graduation from London  drama school Trinity Laban in July. 

Completing the cast will be Matthew Ives (The Boyfriend, Closer to Heaven, La Cage Aux  Folles); Emily Taylor (Great British Pantomime Award nominee and regular choreographer  of the Grand Opera House pantomime) and Danielle Mullan, the North Easterner who  captained the dance team in Berwick Kaler’s York Theatre Royal pantomimes for  many years.   

Looking forward to York Stage adding a new string to their bow after this summer’s open-air musical theatre concerts in Rowntree Park, Theatre@41 board chairman Alan Park  says: “Christmas isn’t Christmas without panto. We’re delighted York Stage are taking full  advantage of Theatre@41’s flexible space to ensure York families will still be able to safely  enjoy a full all-singing and all-dancing pantomime.

May Tether: Signed her first professional contract after drama school to play Jill in Jack And The Beanstalk. Here she is pictured singing in York Stage Musicals’ first summer concert at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre in August. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

“We can’t wait to welcome audiences  back and for the building to echo with music and laughter again.”  

Summing up what lies in store in Jack And The Beanstalk, Nik says: “With an exciting  cast filled with West End talent, all born and bred in Yorkshire, and a  creative team made up from those who brought shows such as Shrek, The Sound  Of Music and Hairspray to York, audiences can be assured of a show of true  panto magic!” 

“Expect glitzy sets and costumes, a show filled with singing and dancing, lots of laughs  and, of course, a huge beanstalk! Audiences can book now for a giant slice of traditional Christmas fun at one of the city’s most magical, bean-sized theatres for  all the family!” 

Tickets for the 40 performances are on sale at yorkstagepanto.com

Jack And The Beanstalk in a nutshell

Writer, director and producer Nik Briggs and musical director Jessica Douglas

PANTOMIME: Jack And The Beanstalk, presented by York Stage Ltd.

WHERE: John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41, Monkgate, York, YO31 7PB.  

WHEN: December 11 2020 to January 3 2021.  

SHOW TIMES: Monday to Saturday, 2pm and 7pm; Sundays, 1pm and 6pm; Christmas Eve, 12 noon and 5pm; New Year’s Eve,  12 noon.  

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes with no interval.   

AUDIENCE CAPACITY: 80, seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

PRICE: Ranging from £20 to £27.  

TICKETS: Available online only, via www.yorkstagepanto.com

Writer, director and producer for York Stage Ltd: NIK BRIGGS  

Musical director: JESSICA DOUGLAS 

Cast: JORDAN FOX as Jack; MAY TETHER as Jill; IAN STROUGHAIR as Flesh Creep; LIVVY  EVANS as Fairy Mary; ALEX WEATHERHILL as Dame Trott; EMILY TAYLOR,  MATTHEW IVES and DANIELLE MULLAN, Ensemble.  

Velma Celli, drag glamour, cabaret song, diva drama… and a rugby club in Acomb

Velma Celli: Game for a laugh and a song at York RI Rugby Union Football Club in Acomb on Friday night

YORK drag diva Velma Celli is signing up for a rugby club in her home city.

Velma, the cabaret creation of West End and international musical actor, singer and dancer Ian Stroughair, will play at York RI Rugby Union Football Club, in New Lane, Acomb on Friday night after a spring and summer of lockdown shows live-streamed from Ian’s Bishopthorpe kitchen.

In the wake of such online diva delights from Case de Velma Celli as Large & Lit In Lockdown, Equinox, Me And My Divas and A Night At The Musicals, here comes An Evening Of Song, live in the Acomb open air.

“Bring your bubble, chairs and campness to York RI Club, New Lane for a spectacular outdoor evening of music and laughs beneath the stars,” says the club website. “Joining Velma will be some of Yorks greatest vocal talents!”

Here, Charles Hutchinson asks Ian/Velma to stretch out on the psychiatrist’s sofa for a spot of quick-thinking self-analysis and more besides.

What did you learn about yourself in lockdown?

“That I wasn’t spending enough time at home.”

Were there good things to being back in York, quarantining after your Australian shows in your home city, rather than in the Big Smoke?

“Goodness, yes. It’s just such a beautiful place and people are lovely.”

What were the best aspects of doing shows online?

“Learning how to do it well. A new skill, it was tricky, but we got there.”

What were the worst aspects?

“Learning how to do it well. A new skill, it was tricky, but we got there.”

“Lovely people there and I grew up in Acomb, so it just feels right,” says Velma Celli/Ian Stroughair, looking forward to Friday’s show

Is there long-term potential for online shows, given that not everyone can get down to London…or even to The Basement, at City Screen, your regular York haunt?

“Yes, I think it will continue to bridge the gap well into 2021. Theatre and the like are going to be baby-stepping it for a long time, so online can keep us all entertained: something we have all learned we need so much in our lives.”

How did you feel to be performing to a live audience again in person at Proud Cabaret All Stars in London last Friday and Saturday? What have you missed most?

“It was AWESOME! I will never forget it. The atmosphere was incredible. It was at a stunning venue on Embankment…it’s HUGE! I’ve missed it all but mostly the cast. The energy and, of course, the audience. 

You’re playing a rugby club in York on a Friday night…that’s brave! Discuss!

“Someone suggested there and I went down and met the lovely Caroline [Knight] and I was sold. LOVELY people there and I grew up in Acomb, so it just feels right.” 

What will feature in An Evening Of Song…the title would suggest a show that can go anywhere, span any genre, climb every musical mountain?

“HA! Yes, it will be a mixed bag of whatever I fancy on the day and of course requests online. Message me on Facebook, peeps!

“Pop, rock, impressions and some musical theatre (obvs).”

Did Lockdown give you a chance to experiment anew with the powder and paint?

“I didn’t. I only wear make-up for the show and I enjoyed the break. It takes forever!”

If anyone is heading down to London on October 8, what can they look forward to in That Drag Show, “an evening of debauched fun and fabulosity at London’s newest drag revue show”, with you, Karla Bear and Portia at the Proud Cabaret City? 

“The triple threats, sent from the Gods. The girls are AWESOME! Really talented folks, so the place might explode.”

Triple threats: Velma Celli and That Drag Show co-stars Karla Bear and Portia

Who are Karla Bear and Portia? What do they each specialise in?

“Karla is an Ozzie import and she wasted no time making a stamp on the UK drag scene, appearing in Kinky Boots in the West End within weeks of arriving.

“She was in the Australian cast of Wicked. She won Drag Idol UK, was the closing act at London LGBT Pride in 2019 and is the girl next door you don’t want your daddy to meet! 

Portia is a West End legend and made an infamous splash into Soho when she originated the role of Young Bernadette in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert at The Palace Theatre and also in La Cage Aux Folles. She’s one of London’s most sought-after hosts and has more legz than a bucket of chicken.”

What is the impact on the live drag scene of this sudden burst of TV shows – the latest being Canada’s Drag Race on BBC Three – for drag addicts needing their glamorous fix?

“Drag is hugely popular now, which must be a good thing.”

Velma Celli: An Evening Of Song, with special guest Jessica Steel, York RI Rugby Union Football Club, New Lane, Acomb, September 11, 8pm, doors 7pm. Tickets: from £16.50 at https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/velma-celli-an-york-ri-rugby-union-football-tickets/10685505

“Please get your tickets in advance of the day as we need to organise tables cos of good ole Covid,” says Velma. “Get those [song] requests in darlings at https://www.facebook.com/VelmaCelliCabaret/

Velma Celli, Karla Bear and Portia in That Drag Show, Proud Cabaret City, Mark Lane, London, EC3R 7AH, October 8, 8pm, doors 7pm. Tickets: £20 to £50 at https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/that-drag-show-proud-cabaret-city-tickets/10698715

Velma Celli’s poster for Friday’s show with A Night To Remember favourite Jessica Steel as a special guest

First, Velma Celli’s divas take over her Bishopthorpe kitchen this weekend. Then, she can come to your place if you ask

Velma Celli’s show poster for Me & My Divas on Saturday

“DARLINGS, I am in London for a bit to try and get things moving and it’s safe to say that it is depressing as F!” So wrote York drag diva divine Velma Celli to her adoring devotees on email on Saturday lunchtime.

“Anyway, I’ll plod on as long as I can. So, I am doing my show ‘Me & My Divas’ next Saturday [June 27] and I would LOVE for you to join me LIVE from LANDAN!”

Since then, Velma, the glorious cabaret creation of actor Ian Stroughair, has returned to Bishopthorpe, from where his series of online performances, streamed live from the Case De Velma Celli kitchen, will resume this weekend.

Tickets for the 8pm show cost £7 at ticketweb.uk/event/velma-celli-me-live-stream-tickets/10614645. As always, tickets come off sale at 5pm and the link will be sent out at around 6pm

Here Charles Hutchinson has a quick catch-up with Velma in the lead-up to Saturday’s virtual date with divas galore.

“Crazy. talented and confidence to suit”: Velma Celli’s three steps to being a diva


How did it feel heading back to London from York after three months in home-town lockdown?

“It was both exciting and nerve-wracking…” 

…You say you went back to London to “try and get things moving”. What can you do at this stage?

“I was hoping to network with restaurants and other smaller venues planning to open on July 4, but it was impossible, so I’m back in York for two weeks.”

How did your last online York kitchen show, Equinox, go on June 13? What did you perform with your remote guest Jodie Steel, the West End star of Wicked, Six and Rock Of Ages?

“It was the best yet! SO much fun. Jodie and I sang Take Me Or Leave Me from Rent [the American musical in which Ian Stroughair played the messianic Angel].

What’s the history of Me & My Divas? 

“I first performed it in January this year in Perth, Australia, at Fringeworld, winning the Best Cabaret award for the season.” 

What’s the content of this new show?

“No diva is safe, no riff she won’t sing – so strap yourself in and let the belt-off begin.

“Me & My Divas is an overindulgent diva fest celebrating the songs and behaviour of all of your favourite divas, including Celine, Mariah, Whitney, Aretha, Cher, Britney (maybe not!) and many more.”

Definitely being one yourself, what are the qualifications required to be a diva, Velma?

“Crazy, talented and confidence to suit.”

Will you have a guest joining you remotely, like you did with Twinnie, Louise Dearman and Jodie Steel for your previous online shows?

“I am working on this. Hopefully I will.”

What are your upcoming plans as lockdown loosens ever more expansively?

“Darlings, you can now book Velma OR Ian to perform privately for your ‘Bubble’ in your outside space/garden or publicly if you have a venue with enough room for social distancing indoors or out!!!

“Get in touch if this is something you might be interested in at stroughair2@hotmail.com.”

Bowie, Barbra and Britney in your living room on Saturday? Yes, courtesy of diva Velma Celli’s online kitchen-sing drama

Dish of the day in her Bishy kitchen: Glam York drag diva Velma Celli is back on your telly or PC this weekend

VELMA Celli, York’ glamorous globe-strutting drag diva, will be Large & Lit in her latest lockdown concert streamed from her Bishopthorpe kitchen on Saturday night.

Ian Stroughair, the alter-ego of fabulous cabaret creation Velma, returned to self-isolate in his native York, rather than his adopted milieu of London, directly from a tour of Australia, and obeying government orders, he has stayed home since quarantine.

Ian, who presents The Velma Celli Show at The Basement, City Screen, York, each month, organised Velma’s first intimate kitchen gig for May 2, in support of St Leonard’s Hospice, in Tadcaster Road, where his late mother was a patient.

“I’d always wanted to find a way to support the hospice, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity,” said Ian, who raised £1,288 for St Leonard’s that night. “With so many conventional fundraising events postponed due to the lockdown, it was a great way for people to support the hospice while enjoying a fantastic, fun and fruity evening of live music in their own living room.” 

Ian’s glittering cabaret queen has starred in such self-originated shows as A Brief History Of Drag, Equinox – Something Fabulous This Way Comes and Me And My Divas, as well as The Velma Celli Show, and now he adds Large & Lit In Lockdown to his title list.

Diva Velma’s repertoire of impersonations of singers and their peculiar mannerisms draws inspiration from a multitude of the best female vocalists of the past 75 years, from Judy Garland to Lady Gaga and beyond. “And unlike many drag queens, Velma always performs live, adding her own special spin to familiar songs,” Ian says.

“This time we’ll have some Bowie, Barbra and Britney,” promises Velma

Charles Hutchinson asks Ian Stroughair/Velma Celli for quick answers to quick questions ahead of Saturday’s 8pm gig.

How did the first kitchen concert go? What was the highlight for you? 

“It was so much fun but totally bizarre not having an audience. Trying to navigate this new way of working was tricky but still fun. The highlight was telling my house mates to clap at the end of the songs! Bless them, they didn’t know if they were allowed. LOL!”

How did it work out singing a “remote” duet with York country singer Twinnie?

“I sang from the kitchen and she was out in the garden – which you can get to without coming through the house – on a radio mic. There was a rather fabulous patio door reveal! ‘Social-distant duetting’ is the new black!” 

Why have you chosen Large & Lit In Lockdown for the latest show title? Nice alliteration, by the way!

“I love alliteration and I am large. Mainly because it’s become custom in this house to fry EVERYTHING!” 

Where will you perform on Saturday? In the kitchen again or another room?

“Kitchen, better acoustics.” 

How will the set list differ from the first concert?

“It will be completely different. This time we’ll have some Bowie, Barbra and Britney! Ya welcome!” 

Choice of dress for the occasion?

“Whatever I can still fit into.” 

Any songs come to mind to perform in response to the Government’s new advice to Stay Alert?

“All By Myself, the Eric Carmen song.” 

When do you envisage being able to return to the world of the stage, the greasepaint and the live audience?

“I don’t want to think about that! Most likely 2021. Urgh.”

How do people acquire a ticket for the best seat in their house for the live stream from Case De Velma Celli?

“As per [usual], all you need to do is get ya tickets from the link below a.s.a.p. and a live link will arrive in your email inbox on the day of the show. Click on it at show time and BOOM! There she is.

https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/velma-celli-large-secret-york-venue-tickets/10581785.

Love and light, Velma.”

Please note: Saturday’s online event can be streamed on a PC or internet-enabled smart TV; tickets cost £7.

York drag diva Velma Celli’s on your telly for online fundraiser for St Leonard’s Hospice

Velma Celli: Adding more than a little sparkle to lockdown

VELMA Celli, York’ very own globe-strutting drag diva, will host a special fundraising concert for St Leonard’s Hospice live from her kitchen on Saturday night to “add a little sparkle to lockdown while helping this great cause”. 

Ian Stroughair, the alter-ego of fabulous cabaret creation Velma, returned to self-isolate in his native York directly from a tour of Australia, since when he has joined a host of fellow West End performers to create a season of online streamed concerts from their own homes. 

In the wake of Velma’s successful Leave A Light On concert, when viewers tuned in from York, London and even as far afield as New York, Ian decided to organise an intimate gig in support of St Leonard’s Hospice, in Tadcaster Road, York.

“Unfortunately, too many of us have seen the amazing work of the team at St Leonard’s Hospice first hand, as loved ones, including my mum, spent time there as cancer was making life increasingly difficult for them,” says Ian, who presents The Velma Celli Show at The Basement, City Screen, York, each month.

“I’ve always wanted to find a way to support the hospice, and this seems like the perfect opportunity. With so many conventional fundraising events postponed due to the lockdown, this is a great way for people to support the hospice while enjoying a fantastic, fun and fruity evening of live music in their own living room.” 

Ian’s glittering cabaret queen has starred in such self-originated shows as A Brief History Of Drag, Equinox – Something Fabulous This Way Comes and Me And My Divas, as well as The Velma Celli Show.

Diva Velma’s repertoire takes inspiration from many of the best female vocalists of the past 75 years, from Judy Garland to Lady Gaga and beyond. “So there’s something for everyone – including hilarious impersonations of the voices and peculiar mannerisms – of some of pop music’s most famous stars,” Ian says.  “Unlike many drag queens, Velma always performs live, adding her own special spin to familiar songs.”

Tickets for Saturday’s event are available from https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/velma-celli-is-live-in-secret-york-venue-tickets/10574895, priced at £7.  “With all proceeds going to St Leonard’s Hospice, we’re hoping that each person watching will buy a ticket, rather than one ticket for the whole room!” requests Ian.

Online audience members will receive a link to watch the performance 30 minutes before the 8pm show, which can be streamed on a PC or internet-enabled smart TV.

Velma Celli: From her kitchen to your living room on Saturday night

Charles Hutchinson asks Ian Stroughair/Velma Celli for quick answers to quick questions in the build-up to Saturday’s gig.

Where are you playing this online show? In York or are you back in London now?

“Darling, I’m in Bishy Bishopthorpe. I came up a week before lockdown.”

Why did you choose a kitchen as the performance space for Saturday’s stream?

“It’s the biggest room and better acoustically.” 

Describe your kitchen. Colour scheme? Favourite kitchen gadget?

“We are white and grey in our kitchen. Gadget? Bottle opener (obvs!).”

What do you most like about kitchens?

“I love kitchens ’cos I’m a mean cook. Not a bitchy one, just very good! I actually wanted to be a chef, that was the plan. I love to bake.”

What’s your favourite dish you make? 

“At the moment, my favourite thing is a custard cake. It’s my great friends Eliza and Suzie’s grandma Dot’s recipe and it’s heavenly.”

Any tips for cooking in lockdown?

“Get creative with what’s in and try not to over-shop.”

How have you been coping with lockdown in York? What are you doing to fill your days?

“I’m coping well. I have my moments because I travel so much with work. I’m cycling a lot and writing.”

Are you good in total isolation? 

“NO.”

What are you missing most in lockdown?

“Being with my friends and family.”

What had you been doing this year before lockdown struck?  

“I toured Australia with my latest show, which was amazing. I also went on the Atlantis Gay cruise around New Zealand and just lots of fabulous gigs in the U.K.”

What was in your 2020 diary that you now can’t do?

So many gigs – and I was supposed to open and star in Funny Girls in Blackpool for a few months.” 

Why are you doing this concert for St Leonard’s Hospice?

“St Leonard’s Hospice cared for my Mum in her last days. It’s a fantastic facility in York that – since Mum’s passing – I try to support as much as I can because they are utterly fabulous.

“The staff are like living angels. I am in awe of them.”

How did the Leave A Light On show go?  When was it broadcast?

“I did it as a solo show on April 2 and it was so much fun. Special shout-out to Eliza and Jamie at Lambert Jackson Productions for their involvement. They’re awesome.”

What songs will you be performing this weekend and why?

“Ooooo, don’t want to spoil the surprise! There’ll be some Queen, Gaga, Judy [Garland] and many more.”

Will there be any special new additions on an isolation theme?

“Yes! A Nirvana classic but re-written lyrically.”

Which one? Maybe that new President Trump Covid-19 favourite Smells Like White Spirit?

“That’s it. Bang on the sentiment.”  

What length will the show be? Any guests?

“One hour. I’ll have the insanely talented Twinnie joining me, though safely apart. She’s up in York at her Mum’s for lockdown. Her album Hollywood Gypsy just came out and it’s amazing!

York country singer Twinnie: Velma Celli’s special guest on Saturday

“She hasn’t decided on what else she’ll performing yet, but most likely we’ll do an album track together too.”

I know just the song! May I suggest her candid yet candied single Better When I’m Drunk?

“Perfect. That’s the one. Whoop!”

Finally, how will you celebrate when you can perform on a stage again, in front of an audience?

“By being ready and raising my game.”

To listen to York country singer Twinnie’s debut album, Hollywood Gypsy, last week’s BBC Radio 2 album of the week, go to: https://twinnie.lnk.to/hollywoodgypsyWE

Copyright of The Press, York